Inside in-house: MetLife HK's head of marketing & comms talks digital and storytelling

MetLife Hong Kong's Sunshine Farzan talks about tapping into consumers' emotions and why the art of storytelling plays a major role in the insurer's comms

Sunshine Farzan
Sunshine Farzan

In 1909, MetLife became the largest life insurer in terms of insurance in force in the US. More than 100 years later, that is still the case and Metlife also has close to 100 million customers worldwide.

In Hong Kong, however, MetLife is a relatively new brand and it’s down to Sunshine Farzan, vice president, head of marketing and communications, to change this perception and boost the company’s profile. 

Farzan rejoined MetLife in Hong Kong in 2013, having previously led new market development for the group’s Latin America operations and held several marketing roles for the US business from its New York headquarters.

In her current role, she heads up the integrated marketing and communications team for MetLife Hong Kong. She previously worked at American Express, where she led digital marketing and strategy for the corporate platinum card in New York and was head of business planning for Greater China.

"As our business continues to diversify, my role is to drive marketing functions across digital, particularly social and mobile, as well as traditional channels," says Farzan. "Our ultimate goal is to sell insurance directly to consumers through agents and online channels."

To achieve this goal, Farzan ensures that her team, which has doubled in size over the past year, has complementary skills, with individuals also taking ownership for one area, for example in digital.

The practice is also split across different focus areas: promoting brand awareness, driving digital engagement, product marketing and PR/communications.

Tapping into emotions

MetLife Hong Kong primarily focuses on building brand awareness and driving online consumer engagement within its marketing and PR strategy. 

In January, it launched the MetLife EduCare Program, exclusive to Hong Kong customers, enabling parents to support their children’s educational pursuits from birth through to university graduation.

As part of this, all new and existing customers of MetLife Hong Kong will receive discounts and access to a wide variety of courses, programmes, and services.

MetLife is also a big believer in using social media and digital platforms to tell stories and connect with consumers on an emotional level. 

Last year, it launched the ‘My Dad’s Story’ campaign, a video that went viral in Hong Kong with more than 25 million views globally on Facebook and YouTube, including views by celebrities and global news outlets.

The story centres on the sacrifices parents make to ensure their children have a bright future, with the campaign part of MetLife’s global proposition to ‘Pursue More from Life’.

"It was hugely successful in driving awareness and engagement with the MetLife Brand in Hong Kong because it established an emotional link with local people by appealing to the core values of family and education," says Farzan.

Farzan says MetLife’s competitors in Hong Kong have been significantly outspending the business on marketing and PR.

"To engage the Hong Kong market in a cost-effective manner, we disrupted two common industry practices: what competitors were saying and where they were saying it," explains Farzan.

"Other firms were using words like worry, risk, even death, combined with sombre imagery. We realised the most tangible meaning of insurance is actually how it makes you feel today."

Armed with this insight, MetLife has grounded its integrated comms strategy on how the brand can help Hong Kong people in the present. It has also sought to differentiate itself from the competition by exploring where Hong Kong insurers’ were engaging with consumers.

"We noted an overwhelming focus on above-the-line advertising, despite Hong Kong being one of the world’s most heavily penetrated internet and tech-savvy markets," explains Farzan.

"Subsequently, we designed and launched the MetLife Infinity app in 2014, a mobile-enabled virtual time capsule that captures and shares special moments in life to help people feel positive about today and tomorrow."

More recently the brand has launched its MetLife ‘Light up your Dream’ campaign that leverages mobile and digital to enable people to share their dreams for the future.

Integration is key

As consumer behaviour continues to evolve, Farzan believes it is critical for marketing and communication professionals to increase digital engagement.

"For us at MetLife, it’s more important than ever to have a team of integrated marketing specialists to meaningfully connect and engage with consumers," says Farzan.

"My team must know how to reach consumers through digital, social, and mobile platforms while not losing sight of the traditional channels that still reach a huge portion of the market." 

To that end, Farzan is keen to work with integrated marketers from a diverse range of backgrounds, but who can also merge traditional and digital to reach all audiences and achieve maximum impact.

Traditional PR, as well as digital, is valued at MetLife, especially in Hong Kong. Farzan says her team must also effectively engage local media through impactful communications and creative storytelling.

CSR and brand awareness

MetLife’s PR function is designed to support the wider business. For example, proprietary research for its Breast Cancer Protector product, which was launched last March, showed that breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Hong Kong women, with one in every 17 at risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime.

These statistics highlighted the health risks, but more alarmingly that Hong Kong women are unaware of prevention methods through self-examination.

In tandem with MetLife’s launch of Hong Kong’s first online insurance product dedicated to breast cancer, the brand conducted a series of CSR campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer risk and the importance of regular self-examination. 

Having sponsored the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation’s annual Pink Walk for several years, MetLife entered into an exclusive partnership with the foundation last March to host a Breast Cancer Awareness Day on International Women’s Day.

"By simultaneously filling a gap in the market and discussing the serious issue of breast cancer through PR, we were able to raise brand awareness in Hong Kong and successfully engage with our customers and the wider community," says Farzan.

"This not only drove product sales it also helped consumers identify positively with the MetLife brand, leading to increased business in the future."

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